Portslade WVS service

Iris Harding's life

By Nicola Benge

Photo:Iris at Buckingham Palace

Iris at Buckingham Palace

Photo from WRVS Heritage Plus Archive

Portslade WRVS Service

WVS medals

Take a look at this photo. That's me talking to The Queen at a WVS reception, I was chosen to meet her as I was the oldest member there, and next to me is the youngest.

The protocol at these things is extraordinary. We had to be there at 3.30 pm for a 6.30 pm event, and wait. For ages! She made her way, eventually, through a series of six rooms, meeting people. We were in the last of course. But we gave her a bouquet of lily-of-the-valley. Her favourite flower, apparently.

She spoke to me, mentioned my long service.

"Yes," I said. "I've seen many changes in the organisation, and not necessarily for the better..."

Portsmouth memories

Mind you, it wasn't the first time I've seen her. I remember seeing her in an open carriage in Portsmouth when I was a girl. 1947ish, I should think. I was fourteen or so. We had to line the route and wave. No flags though. That was before all that sort of thing.

Oh yes, I was in Portsmouth during the war. I wasn't evacuated. My parents wouldn't hear of it. I was an only child; I suppose that makes a difference.

I seem to have spent most of the war in our Anderson Shelter. One of the schools took a hit right and truly... and so did our education, after that. Two schools shared one building. One set had it in the morning for lessons, and then they had to clear out while the second lot had it for the afternoon. It didn't seem to affect my education though. I still got my full school certificate!

Westminster Abbey

What's the main feeling I get when I go to events, such as the services at Westminster Abbey, or receptions? Oh, I suppose it is the sense that you are one member of a huge organisation. Seeing the whole of Westminster Abbey full of WVS members is extraordinary. You feel one of hundreds, thousands. It is a real sense of belonging and great pride, really. Pride in the organisation.

I went to Westminster Abbey first on the 21st anniversary of the founding of the WVS. It was founded in May 1939, so you can work out the date! That was a service in the presence of the Queen Mother.

Then I was there again for a service to commemorate the 900th anniversary of the Abbey itself... that was in 1966, November.

And again, for a service of thanksgiving for the life of Stella, Duchess of Reading, the founder of the WVS. That was in June 1971.

And again (I ought to have moved in!) on 26th May 1988, with the Queen Mother, a service to commemorate the Golden Jubilee of the WVS. And there was another more local event for that one, at the Church of St Saviour and St Peter, Eastbourne, also in May 1988.

It really has been a source of pride. People coming from all over. People who worked closely with the army and so on.

This page was added by Nicola Benge on 16/01/2008.

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